According to the National Public Radio website, a study showed that “36 percent of college students say they are food insecure.” Even at UMBC, some students face hunger and the reality that they may not have enough resources to pay for their meals or other necessities. Fortunately, there is an organization on campus dedicated to reaching out and helping students facing food insecurity. Retriever Essentials is run by a group of people who are dedicated to making sure students do not face these challenges alone.
Julie Rosenthal, a staff member of Retriever Essentials, does some of the marketing and community outreach along with processing donations that go into the organization’s foundation account. She says that Retriever Essentials originated two years prior when Dr. Nancy Young and Dr. Leslie Morgan brought together different team members who were united by a common goal: to have a food pantry on campus for food-insecure students.
One such individual is Katrina Grusell, who is the chaplain to the Lutheran Episcopal campus ministry student group. Grusell currently serves on the advisory board for Retriever Essentials. Another is Lauren Kataja, whose goal is “to build more support and getting more student and campus involvement.” She also mentions that Retriever Essentials works as a referral service, so if students have further problems, the group will work to connect the student with the proper officials.
Rosenthal notes that the organization has “six locations around campus where students can pick up bags of nutritionally balanced nonperishable food.” According to their website, retrieveressentials.umbc.edu, these pick-up stations are located at: the Counseling Center, Honors College, the Mosaic Center, the Women’s Center, Off-Campus Student Services and Residential Life. Kataja says this semester, “We have given out 75 bags of nonperishable food to students.”
Along with food bags, the organization also tries to provide other means for students to combat various challenges; for example, they also distribute free outerwear to students who cannot afford such items. Rosenthal says that Retriever Essentials’ Coat Closet “has free coats that people have donated for students who don’t have warm clothing, along with hats, gloves, and scarves.” So far, 45 coats have been handed out this semester.
Coupons for products ranging from food to hygiene are available at the desk in the front entrance of Off-Campus Student Services. There is also the save-a-swipe program in which students can sign up at the beginning of the semester through the Retriever Essentials website to donate up to ten meals to those who face hunger.
For students who can help those who are disadvantaged on campus, the organization encourages donating nonperishable food items at the following collection boxes: the one in the administrative building across from the elevators, the one in front of the Retriever Learning Center in the library, and a collection box that will eventually be available on Mainstreet in the Commons.
Kataja also mentions some upcoming initiatives they are currently developing, including a survey where numerical data will be gathered to gain feedback and support about how to better meet the needs of students with food insufficiency. The team is also trying to collaborate with student organizations in order to better help students in need.
“What many people don’t understand is how big of a problem food insecurity is for college campuses across the nation, and at UMBC,” Grusell says. While food insecurity is a big issue some students on campus face, the UMBC community can work together to make sure that Retrievers facing this challenge are able to get the support that they need to make their college experience as successful as possible.